During the 2016 presidential race, the majority of the US public were spellbound by the unlikely rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and their various competing visions for the United States of America. Considerably less institutionally-heeled but far more imaginative and, some argued, outlandish, candidates, dead-ringer for the Dos Equis Man John David McAfee of The Cyber Party and Zoltan Istvan Gyurko of The Transhumanist Party. McAfee, a successful tech entrepreneur who worked with NASA between 1968 and 1970, was the more well-known of the two politicians, principally through the popularity (or infamy, depending on who one asked) of McAfee Antivirus Software. McAfee (the person, not the software) has also received a good deal of airtime and media attention for a scandal which saw him accused of murder and fleeing from the corrupt, Sinaloa-controlled Belize after the errant businessman found out about a government-sponsored plot to kill him.
Zoltan Istvan, a former NatGeo journalist and the founder of the US Transhumanist Party, though less well known than McAfee, garnered significant attention due to both his extraordinary statements concerning technological advancement and a 2015 four month campaign, wherein he drove around the country in a brown, coffin-shaped bus (dubbed ‘The Immortality Bus’) to bring awareness to his goal of working to end death itself through radical life-extension procedures. The Immortality Bus tour ended December 14, 2015, with Mr. Istvan delivering the Transhumanist Bill of Rights to the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. The Verge dubbed him, a “modern-day Ken Kesey” referencing the beat generation countercultural figure, well known for his novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The comparison was not entirely inaccurate as Istvan was also a novelist, having penned the highly contentious sci-fi novel, The Transhumanist Wager, in 2013. He has also gained attention for inventing the sport of volcano boarding (alternatively, volcano surfing or volcanoging) on the isle of Tanna.
In 2016, the two men met during their respective presidential bids in Charlotte, North Carolina, and quickly fell into a series of discussions and debates surrounding their campaigns. Technology stood as a important mean for both of their platforms, however their ends were considerably different. Mr. Istvan, for example, advocated for radical life extension development (a central plank in the Transhumanist Party platform) aimed at eliminating aging as-such and the mitigation of warfare and various other exigencies and a general uplift of humanity. McAfee, in response, jestingly advocated for killing everyone by age 30 and, more seriously, stated that he despised the idea of indefinate lifespans which he described as both “horrific” and “anti-evolutionary.”
On the issue of security, the two also fell into cross-purposes, McAfee had been a long-time champion of total individual privacy and Istvan (who had been NCF RFID chipped) declared, “I would prefer everyone gets tracked as it would increase safety dramatically. Transparency is everything. We’re all citizens. All public officials should be tracked 24 hours a day. They work for me, I want to know what they’re doing.” Whilst that might seem extreme, recall the mass support for body-cameras for law enforcement.
In terms of relation to the government at-large, Istvan said he’d work for any administration, whether Clinton’s, Trump’s, or anyone elses, so long as that administration advanced the transhumanist program; McAfee, in contrast, advocated for utilizing Article 5 of the Constitution to completely reset the government. It seemed they could agree on nothing.
Their debate and attendant motivating philosophies is worth-revisiting principally due to the way in which it highlights the divide between bio-conservatism and the emerging trends of bio-synthetic integrationism and modification, issues which are important to raise and properly elucidate, given the existential angst and slack-jawed utopianism they can engender when poorly articulated. Personally, I fall into agreement with Mr. Istvan and view life extension technologies not as something alien and new but rather as a continuation of the whole history of technological innovation. The principal points to make against McAfee’s vision of the optimal life being a short and merry one, are:
- Life extension, as-such, is nothing new. The sharpened stick of a human 150,000 years ago was a life extension tool. Toothbrushes, soap and reliable energy production systems are, similarly, all forms of life extension, they are merely so commonplace that it is strange to think of them as such; they are viewed as “givens”. The only difference between all hitherto life extension technologies (such as those aforementioned) and transhumanist and futurist life extension proposals is the prospective reversal of aging itself.
- Whilst many people doubtless think like McAfee and view the idea of living forever, or simply for a significant period of time beyond the “natural” human lifespan, as unnerving, no one is going to force anyone to take such procedures (given that, barring some kind of technological breakthrough, they will be costly for a very long time). If one does not wish to extend one’s lifespan, one does not have to.
- Perhaps most importantly, whilst one of the most common phrases used to describe treatments pertinent to increasing longevity is ‘life extension’ the phrase, ‘health extension’ should always be right beside it, given that the idea (within the circles of life extension theorists and researchers) is not to simply extend the aging process but to slow and reverse the aging process with the ultimate goal being the ability to chose one’s biological age at will. Thus, the project of radical life extension is not to simply have everyone live to 150+ in a state of decrepitude, but rather, to have as many people as possible live to be age 150+ with a biological age of 25-40 (or whichever age one wishes which is within the bounds of the technology at the time).
- Lastly, there is often a fear that the treatments required for significant life extension will be so expensive that they will be a fixture of the ultra-rich, far beyond the reach of the middle and lower income brackets. This is a valid concern, and it is almost invariable that such procedures, upon being developed (and much headway has already been made) will be extremely expensive; however, so were the first cars. The trend with groundbreaking technology is for it to always be expensive, at first, but then to become somewhat more affordable (even if it will never be as cheap as one would like). Further, it is a issue which the Transhumanist Party has built into their Bill of Rights, Article V of which states: Article V. No coercive legal restrictions should exist to bar access to life extension and life expansion for all sentient entities. Life expansion includes life extension, sensory improvements, and other technologically driven improvements of the human condition that might be achieved in the future. The point being not that this document will move the legal system anytime soon (it won’t), but rather that it has been widely covered (by outlets such as Wired) and is thus raising the issue in a interesting and accessible way. The more the issue is raised, and seriously considered, the more likely it is that similar articles may one day make it into law. That, however, is a debate for future times.
Sources & Further Reading